‘The Road’ by C. McCarthy – The narrator – Exercise 1

Introductory notes

Project 4 of Creative Arts Today aims at consolidating work done during this part of the course on plot, character, theme and expression and to tie this part with the general course themes of time, place and journey with the addition of the more specific theme of environmental devastation and my effort shall be to at least touch upon all these aspects in my close reading of an excerpt of ‘The Road’ by C. McCarthy.

It also introduces new technical terms used in creative reading/writing: first of all the concept of narrator and secondarily that of ‘hooks’. So I shall start with a little research in this areas.

On page 96 Creative Arts Today defines ‘hooks’ as questions that grip the reader who then reads on to look for answers. I have found an interesting blog article on the subject (Michelle W., 2014), which deals with the opening lines as the first chance to hook readers — or to lose them.

A very fundamental concept is that of the narrator or the point of view from which the story is told, that is the voice who tells the story, sees the events and shows what he or she sees (page 96 of the course). The writer can choose from several possibilities and I am noting them here for convenience. I am listing the technical terms I have found on this subject (Wiebe and Fritchie):

detached narrator: someone outside the story, looking down on the scene

omniscient narrator: an all-knowing and all-seeing narrator

unreliable narrator: may be a subjective narrator  because speaks from his or her experience

objective narrator: an observer who describes the characters, may be a detached or unreliable narrator

first person narrator: uses the pronoun ‘I’ to tell the story, can be a main or secondary character

second person narrator: uses the pronoun ‘you’

third person narrator: uses the pronoun ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’

multiple narrators: can present multiple points of view

limited narrator: has a restricted view of events

Exercise 1

‘The Road’ has an omniscient, detached narrator.

From omniscient to first person narrator:

I pushed the cart and both I and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case we had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that I used to watch the road behind us. … Are you okay? I said. The body nodded. We set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

From omniscient to second person narrator:

You pushed the cart and both you and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case the both of you had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that you used to watch the road behind you. … Are you okay? you said. The body nodded. You both set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.

The use of the first person narrator produces a closer, more intimate effect, the advantage being that perhaps it becomes easier for a reader to identify with him and get directly involved with his dramatic story. It is still not possible to know if the boy is his son or not, but the question: ‘Are you okay?’ feels more compelling and affectionate. A disadvantage might be that the many telling details that the omniscient narrator observes with a certain detachment seem slightly awkward expressed in the first person, as somewhat extraniated.

I think that the choice of the second person narrator looks unnatural, very limiting and perhaps even fastidiously aggressive. Used throughout the book it might soon tire the reader. It seems also difficult to penetrate the man’s feelings using this point of view since much of the attention is shifted from him towards who (the reader?) says ‘you’.

The use of a third person narrator,  but limited to the point of view of only one character, might have also been an interesting choice as stated in Creative Arts Today and would have created ‘a sort of fusion between the omniscient and the first person narrator and [work] well in letting us get close to the character, but not too close for comfort’ (page 97). In this case, shifting the POV from the man to the boy could make the story very different, or perhaps a totally new story altogether: the boy’s feelings and reactions might be unlike those of the man and he might well notice other details, in any case the narrative angle would certainly change and consequently also our perceptions and emotions as readers.

I can imagine that McCarthy decided to use an omniscient narrator because he wished more freedom in telling his story and the possibility of a wider perspective, without the limitations of the other POVs. An omniscient detached observer can freely move from one character to another and consider them in different ways, from the outside and from within, how they act and what they think.

 

Bibliography

Michelle W. (2014)  Writing 201: Intros and Hooks [online blog] In: dailypost.wordpress.com  At: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/assignments/intros-and-hooks/

Wiebe S. and Fritchie L.L., Reading fiction: narrator and character types  [online blog] In: Study Guides and Strategies studygs.net  At:  http://www.studygs.net/fictiona.htm

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